New York Attorney General Letitia James said Monday that her office is formally proceeding with an investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Gov. Andrew Cuomo, which comes as a third accuser has alleged harassment.
James said she proceeded with the investigation after she received the referral she needed from the governor's office.
James said in a statement that the referral gives her office "the authority to move forward with an independent investigation into allegations of sexual harassment claims made against Governor Cuomo. This is not a responsibility we take lightly as allegations of sexual harassment should always be taken seriously."
Her statement was made public before another woman, Anna Ruch, 33, told The New York Times in an article published Monday that she felt "uncomfortable and embarrassed" when Cuomo placed his hands on her face and asked to kiss her at a wedding in 2019. The story included a photograph that appears to show the moment.
Ruch did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Cuomo's office also has been asked for comment.
James, a Democrat, said Sunday that she plans to "hire a law firm, deputize them as attorneys of our office and oversee a rigorous and independent investigation" of the allegations against Cuomo, a Democrat in his third term. Hiring and deputizing an independent counsel, who would have subpoena power, is expected to take a few days, her office said.
James said the findings would be disclosed in a public report.
Under New York law, the attorney general needs a referral from the governor to empower a special counsel, even though in this case the allegations are against the governor himself.
In the referral letter, Beth Garvey, special counsel and senior adviser to the governor, said Cuomo was waiving a provision of Executive Law 63(8) that mandates that the attorney general and the governor "receive weekly status reports on any investigation" opened under the law.
Garvey said Cuomo would not be briefed "due to the nature of this review."
Two other women have stepped forward to detail allegations of sexual harassment.
Lindsey Boylan, a deputy secretary for economic development and special adviser to Cuomo from 2015 to 2018, wrote in an essay on the website Medium that she had been subjected to "pervasive harassment" when she worked for him, including being asked to "play strip poker" and receiving an unwanted kiss on the mouth. Cuomo press secretary Caitlin Girouard called Boylan's allegations "quite simply false."
Another former aide, Charlotte Bennett, told The Times in an interview published Saturday that Cuomo made several inappropriate remarks about her sex life, which she said she interpreted as an overture.
Cuomo denied the allegations, which NBC News has not independently verified, saying in a statement Saturday that he "never made advances toward Ms. Bennett nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate."
Bennett, 25, did not allege physical harassment. She told NBC News that the Times report was accurate and declined to comment further.
Cuomo said in a long statement Sunday that he understood "that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended."
"I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that," he said.
He added: "To be clear I never inappropriately touched anybody and I never propositioned anybody and I never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but these are allegations that New Yorkers deserve answers to."
Cuomo initially said he was appointing a former judge to investigate. He then suggested that the state's top judge assist James' investigation before he relented to bipartisan calls for an independent investigation.
Bennett said Monday in a statement to NBC New York: "It took the Governor 24 hours and significant backlash to allow for a truly independent investigation. These are not the actions of someone who simply feels misunderstood; they are the actions of an individual who wields his power to avoid justice."
Bennett's attorney, Debra S. Katz, said Bennett "will cooperate fully with the Attorney General's investigation."
"We are confident that no disinterested investigator who reviews this evidence would adopt the governor's self-serving characterization of his behavior as mentorship or, at worst, unwanted flirtation," she said. "He was not acting as a mentor and his remarks were not misunderstood by Ms. Bennett. He was abusing his power over her for sex. This is textbook sexual harassment."
Bennett called for any other people who believe they are victims to step forward if they feel they can.
"To the governor's survivors: I am here. Lindsey is here. You do not have to say a single word. But if you choose to speak your truth, we will be standing with you. I promise," her statement said.